Thinking About a Technical Solution to Coordination Problems

I was just read­ing an ar­ti­cle on­line, and one of the com­ments men­tioned a poli­ti­cal is­sue (the le­gal­ity of cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tions to poli­ti­cal cam­paigns). One of the re­sponses what a com­ment say­ing “Not un­til we aban­don this men­tal­ity, we the vic­tims are the ma­jor­ity, we can take back this coun­try, all we need to do is open our eyes and stand up.” When I saw this com­ment, I agreed with the sen­ti­ment—but nev­er­the­less, I shrugged and moved on. Sure, it is an is­sue that I strongly be­lieve in, and an is­sue on which I thought most peo­ple would agree with me—but nev­er­the­less, there was noth­ing I could do about it. Sure, if ev­ery­one who agreed on this took a stand (or at least wrote a let­ter to their con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive) we could prob­a­bly do some­thing about it to­gether—but I could only con­trol my own ac­tions, and in act­ing alone I’d only be wast­ing my time.

That got me think­ing. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across these sorts of is­sues. At its heart, this is a co­or­di­na­tion prob­lem—lots of peo­ple want to do some­thing, but it doesn’t make sense for any in­di­vi­d­ual to act un­less many oth­ers do as well. We don’t have a way to solve these sorts of prob­lems, which is quite un­for­tu­nate. Ex­cept… why can’t we have such a sys­tem?

Right now, I’m imag­in­ing a web­site where you get to cre­ate “causes” and also add your name to them along with a num­ber spec­i­fy­ing how many other sup­port­ers you’d need to see be­fore you would be will­ing to take (a pre-speci­fied) ac­tion to­wards the cause. What are the rea­sons that some­thing like this wouldn’t work?

I fact, we do have sev­eral web­sites that work sort-of like this already. Kick­starter is one. The White House Pe­ti­tions sys­tem is an­other. The first of these has been a wild suc­cess; the sec­ond, less so (as far as I un­der­stand it). So there is clearly some merit to the idea, but also some ma­jor set­backs.

What do peo­ple think of this?